Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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Tiny Forests' Big Benefits

Tiny Forests Can Have Big Benefits
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, February 13, 2024, p. A6

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have been honored Arbor Day Foundation “Tree City USA” communities for over 40 years.

We know the benefits tree projects provide – air quality, cooling, community cohesion, improved health.

The Cedar Rapids derecho on Aug. 20, 2020, made national headlines after gusts up to 140 mph destroyed or seriously damaged nearly 700,000 trees.

Current news is our share of the $1 billion Forest Service grant for local trees, ReLeaf’s plan to replace nearly 50,000 of the former trees, NOAA’s identification of our “heat islands,” and near universal community support for these projects.

We are aware that it’s getting warmer. Many days this month have been 30 degrees or more above average. We may not be aware that The Lut Desert (Iran) and Sonoran Desert (Mexico) have recorded temperatures over 175 degrees. That workers in Kuwait City and Basra, Iraq, need to start in the middle of the night and quit at 7:20 am for breakfast and home to avoid excessive heat. Or that the Sun is 16 million degrees at its core.

When Dean Martin sang that he was “praying for rain in California” it was “so the grapes will grow and they can make more wine.” If it didn’t rain he could always go back to his favorite Old Fashioned.

When Iowa farmers pray for rain no alcohol is a viable substitute. And when the hot, dry, cracked soil no longer gives birth to corn and beans, Iowa’s economy crashes along with farmers’ dreams.

Fortunately, like a new fashion industry design (think torn jeans), just when we need a comfortable breeze of good news, along comes a new approach to trees.

It’s called “tiny forests.” In 2006 Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki was honored for this contribution. In addition to Japan, they’re now popular in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, India, Russia and the Middle East.

Here are the highlights.

Tiny forests are, well, tiny. No rigid rules on size, so think tennis court.

How do they differ from trees planted between the sidewalk and road along a city street? Tiny forests are an effort to recreate a crowded plot with naturally enriched soil, and none but indigenous shrubs, groundcover and trees fighting for the sunlight. Like a small piece of our western vacation lands.

I hear you asking – as my doctor queried when I proudly told him I’d lost five pounds – “Why would you want to do that?”

Used in urban heat islands, parks and developments as a supplement, not substitute, for other tree planting projects, they have those projects’ advantages plus many more.

With three-to-six times the tree density of a young forest they grow faster – 5 to 10 feet a year. Density creates microclimates, attracting a greater variety of birds and pollinators. Rapid growth creates more carbon dioxide capture sooner. Greater cooling. Soil that reduces erosion and runoff while refilling aquifers. Weed suppression. Low or no maintenance. Need less land than scattered trees. [Photo credit: wikimedia commons; Tiny Forest 9 months after planting!]

Sometimes major challenges have tiny solutions.

Nicholas Johnson will email you his “tiny forest” sources if you email a request to mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Cedar Rapids trees. “Forestry,” Cedar Rapids, https://www.cedar-rapids.org/residents/resident_resources/forestry.php (“Tree City USA Recognition The City of Cedar Rapids has been recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for more than 40 consecutive years. We have the longest consecutive record of any city in the state of Iowa.”)

Iowa City trees. “Forestry,” Iowa City, https://www.icgov.org/government/departments-and-divisions/parks-and-recreation/forestry “Tree City, USA Iowa City is proud to have been named a Tree City USA annually since 1979. Only one city in Iowa, Cedar Rapids, has been a recipient over a longer period of time than Iowa City.”)

Benefits of trees. “22 Benefits of Trees,” TreePeople, https://www.treepeople.org/22-benefits-of-trees/ (sample selections: climate change, cleaner air, oxygen source, heat reduction, water control, erosion protection, noise reduction, soil improvement, beautification, physical and mental health.)

Cedar Rapids derecho. “Derecho,” Cedar Rapids, https://www.cedar-rapids.org/derecho/review.php (“On August 10, 2020, Cedar Rapids was confronted with an unprecedented disaster that impacted the entire community. . . . Recognized as the most destructive severe thunderstorm in the United States history, the derecho damaged thousands of homes and businesses. The derecho also destroyed 669,000 trees causing an enormous amount of debris.”)

Examples of national coverage:

Bryan Pietsch, Aimee Ortiz and John Schwartz, “In Derecho’s Wake, More Than 250,000 in Midwest Struggle Without Power; Residents in Iowa, Illinois and surrounding states were still without electricity days after Monday’s storms brought hurricane-force winds,” New York Times, August 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/13/us/derecho-iowa-storm.html

Bob Henson, “Iowa derecho in August was most costly thunderstorm disaster in U.S. history; NOAA estimates damage at $7.5 billion, higher than many hurricanes,” The Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/10/17/iowa-derecho-damage-cost/ (“Numerous locations clocked gusts over 110 mph. The winds laid waste to millions of acres of crops, severely damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, and brought down many thousands of trees. “One could make a strong case that this is the most destructive individual thunderstorm cluster on record in terms of damage cost,” said Steve Bowen, head of catastrophe insight at the insurance broker Aon, in an email. Aon released an initial damage estimate of $5 billion for the derecho, not yet including agricultural impacts. . . . The highest estimated gust, based on the partial destruction of an apartment complex in Cedar Rapids, was 140 mph. Gusts that strong are comparable to the peak that one would expect in an EF3 tornado or major hurricane. Parts of five Iowa counties were struck by wind gusts estimated at 110 to 140 mph.”)

Forest Service grant; ReLeaf plans. Marissa Payne, “In USDA’s $1.1 billion investment in tree planting, Cedar Rapids’ ReLeaf reforestation effort awarded $6 million; Iowa communities, Department of Natural Resources receive $15.7 million through Forest Service grants,” The Gazette, Sep. 14, 2023, https://www.thegazette.com/federal-government/in-usdas-1-1-billion-investment-in-tree-planting-cedar-rapids-releaf-reforestation-effort-awarde/ (“In a move to expand equitable access to trees and green spaces nationwide, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday announced an award of $6 million toward Cedar Rapids’ effort to reforest the city after the 2020 derecho toppled most of the city’s tree canopy. Gathered at Greene Square in the heart of Cedar Rapids, federal officials shared Cedar Rapids is among 385 recipients of $1.13 billion in U.S. Forest Service grants that will help communities grow tree cover in urban spaces and provide Americans with the health benefits that trees offer. . . . The funding . . . is intended to expand equitable access to nature while making communities more resilient to extreme heat, storm-induced flooding and other effects of the human-caused climate crisis. Locally, Thursday’s announcement moved the city of Cedar Rapids and Trees Forever closer to the $37 million needed to fund their ReLeaf partnership to replenish the trees downed in the derecho, ReLeaf partnership to replenish the trees downed in the derecho, the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The unprecedented storm wiped out more than two-thirds of Cedar Rapids’ tree canopy, about 669,000 trees. . . . Specifically, the ReLeaf plan calls for planting about 42,000 trees on public parks and rights of way over 10 years with a focus on place-making and equitably restoring tree cover in vulnerable neighborhoods. The plan envisions trees as a means of strengthening social bonds in the community by promoting volunteerism.”)

NOAA’s heat islands. “Spot the Hot,” The Hot-Heat Mapping Campaign, Cedar Rapids, https://www.cedar-rapids.org/local_government/sustainability/SpotTheHot.php (“Residents in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City had the opportunity to serve as community scientists to gather temperature data I hottest parts of our Corridor communities as part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) heat island project. The City of Cedar Rapids, along with Iowa City, recently was named one of 18 communities in the U.S. to participate in the NOAA Urban Heat Island (UHI) mapping campaign, and we received grant funding from NOAA for this project. UHIs are areas with fewer trees and more pavement to absorb heat and create heat pockets in communities, in contrast with areas that feature more trees, green spaces, and less asphalt. UHIs are detrimental to public health because of these created heat pockets. The NOAA UHI mapping campaign engaged community volunteers to help collect data in their neighborhoods by utilizing provided sensors mounted on their vehicles; the sensors recorded temperature, humidity, time, and location.”)

Near universal community support. Marissa Payne, “In USDA’s $1.1 billion investment in tree planting, Cedar Rapids’ ReLeaf reforestation effort awarded $6 million; Iowa communities, Department of Natural Resources receive $15.7 million through Forest Service grants,” The Gazette, Sep. 14, 2023, https://www.thegazette.com/federal-government/in-usdas-1-1-billion-investment-in-tree-planting-cedar-rapids-releaf-reforestation-effort-awarde/ (“Vilsack told reporters the combination of community leadership, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and other partnerships behind ReLeaf Cedar Rapids made it a compelling application within the state of Iowa and a fitting location to spotlight in unveiling the grants. ‘What really struck me was how comprehensive and how excited and how passionate people are for this program in Cedar Rapids,’ . . . The city has committed at least $1 million annually toward ReLeaf for 10 years . . .. ReLeaf has secured about $3.5 million in private support so far . . ..”)

30 degrees warmer this year. Corey Thompson, “Exceptional warmth continues, before rain and storm chance brings change,” KCRG, Feb. 6, 2024, https://www.kcrg.com/2024/02/06/exceptional-warmth-continues-before-rain-storm-chance-brings-change/ (“A warming trend continues into Wednesday and Thursday, owing to an increase in southeasterly winds. These will help to pull in those warmer highs, which head toward the upper 50s on Wednesday, and likely break through the 60-degree mark on Thursday. More records are possible on Wednesday, and we will likely wipe out records area-wide on Wednesday as highs surge toward 30 degrees or more above normal. Cedar Rapids has never seen such warmth for so long this early in the year . . ..”)

Alan Halaly, “West’s ‘hot drought’ is unprecedented in more than 500 years,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, Feb. 1, 2024, https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/science-and-technology/wests-hot-drought-is-unprecedented-in-more-than-500-years-2991687/ Also, The Gazette, Feb. 3, 2024, p 6: (LAS VEGAS — There’s no precedent in at least five centuries for how hot and dry the West has been in the last two decades, new research asserts using analysis of tree rings. The study, published in late January, adds to an ever-growing slew of research that suggests human-caused climate change is warming the earth in ways never seen before. It furthers other research like one study, published last year, that showed the West’s conditions over the last 20 years are the driest in 1,200 years because of climate change.”)

Ian Livingston, "Central, eastern U.S. bask in record winter warmth; At least 350 warm-weather records have been set this week alone," Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2024/02/09/record-high-temperatures-midwest-greatlakes-climate/ ("Abnormally warm weather has [set] hundreds of records. Now some of this warmth is oozing toward the East Coast. Already, at least 350 warm-weather records have fallen, and two more days of springlike warmth are on the way from the Great Lakes to the Mid-Atlantic. . . . Since the beginning of February, temperatures in the nation’s northern tier have climbed to nearly 40 degrees above normal at times. . . . So far, February is the warmest or second-warmest on record for most of the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, according to Weather Service data.")

Lut & Sonoran deserts. Richard Stone, “Move over, Death Valley: These are the two hottest spots on Earth; Two places hold the record for highest surface temperatures on the planet,” Science, May 19, 2021, https://www.science.org/content/article/move-over-death-valley-these-are-two-hottest-spots-earth (“Death Valley holds the record for the highest air temperature on the planet: On 10 July 1913, temperatures at the aptly named Furnace Creek area in the California desert reached a blistering 56.7°C (134.1°F). Average summer temperatures, meanwhile, often rise above 45°C (113°F).

But when it comes to surface temperature, two spots have Death Valley beat. A new analysis of high-resolution satellite data finds the Lut Desert in Iran and the Sonoran Desert along the Mexican-U.S. border have recently reached a sizzling 80.8°C (177.4°F).

Kuwait and Basra. “Extreme Heat Will Change Us; Half the world could soon face dangerous heat. We measured the daily toll it is already taking,” New York Times, Nov. 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/11/18/world/middleeast/extreme-heat.html (Basra and Kuwait: "By 7:22 a.m., it was too hot to keep going on the roof, so they ate breakfast in the shade and switched to indoor tasks. At 9 a.m., they quit for the day.")

Sun temperature. “Sun,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ (“Sun Sun’s diameter. 864,600 miles Sun’s distance from Earth. 93,000,000 miles Sun’s temperature on surface; at core. Surface atmosphere 9,000,000 oF [8,999,540 oF] Core 16,000,000 oF [15,700,000 oF] A sphere that size could hold 1.3 million Earths. “Image of 1 Million Earths Inside the Sun,” Business Insider, Jan. 30, 2015, https://www.businessinsider.com/image-of-1-million-earths-inside-the-sun-2015-1)

Dean Martin song. “Little Old Wine Drinker Me,” MOJIM, https://mojim.com/usy123185x45x6.htm (“Little Old Wine Drinker Me”

I’m praying for rain in California, So the grapes can grow And they can make more wine”)

Dean Martin’s favorite drinks. Johathan Wells, “Here’s how to drink like the Rat Pack; From Frank Sinatra’s favorite Scotch whisky to Dean Martin’s cocktail of choice, here’s how to drink like the famous entertainers,” Gentleman’s Journal, Feb. 5, 2024, https://www.thegentlemansjournal.com/article/heres-how-to-drink-like-the-rat-pack/ (“He [Dean Martin] enjoyed a frequent glass of Jack Daniel’s over ice — and even launched his own bourbon, Dino’s, in 1959 (part of a liquor line that also included a vodka and a Scotch whisky). Curiously, however, Martin preferred his Old Fashioned — a cocktail traditionally mixed with bourbon — made with Scotch.”)

Agriculture in Iowa’s economy. Caitlyn Lamm, “Ag is vital to Iowa’s economy,” Iowa Farm Bureau, March 30, 2022, https://www.iowafarmbureau.com/Article/Ag-is-vital-to-Iowas-economy (“Iowa agriculture is responsible for a direct economic output of $88.3 billion and more than 315,000 jobs contributing $17.57 billion in wages, according to the sixth annual Feeding the Economy report. . . . Iowa agriculture supports 801,000 jobs and a $204 billion economic output. Iowa agriculture also has an export value of $6.56 billion.”)

“Iowa,” Sheppard Software, https://www.sheppardsoftware.com/usaweb/snapshot/Iowa.htm (“Economy Farms make up about 92 percent of Iowa’s land; only Nebraska has a higher percentage of farmland. About one-third of the best farmland in the United States is located in Iowa. Most of the state’s residents are in some way dependent upon Iowa’s fertile soil and many crops.”)

“Study Measures Significance of Agriculture to Iowa Economy,” Iowa State University, Extension and Outreach, 2009, https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/2009/oct/161501.htm (Though a little dated, still ballpark indicators. “Production agriculture and ag-related industries directly and indirectly employ one of every six Iowans (or 17 percent of the state’s workforce), based on 2007 Census of Agriculture data. They also are responsible for adding $72.1 billion to the state’s economy, or 27 percent of the state’s total. This represents a 2 percent increase over a previous analysis . . ..”)

Tiny forests – description and benefits. See generally, "Pocket Forests," Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocket_forest

Cara Buckley, “Tiny Forests With Big Benefits; Native plants crowded onto postage-stamp-size plots have been delivering environmental benefits around the world — and, increasingly, in the U.S., New York Times, Aug. 26, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/24/climate/tiny-forests-climate-miyawaki.html (“The tiny forest . . . is . . . already acting quite a bit older than its actual age, which is just shy of 2. Its aspens are growing at twice the speed normally expected, with fragrant sumac and tulip trees racing to catch up. It has absorbed storm water without washing out, suppressed many weeds and stayed lush throughout last year’s drought. The little forest managed all this because of its enriched soil and density, and despite its diminutive size: 1,400 native shrubs and saplings, thriving in an area roughly the size of a basketball court.

Tiny forests have been planted across Europe, in Africa, throughout Asia and in South America, Russia and the Middle East. India has hundreds, and Japan, where it all began, has thousands. . . .

Healthy woodlands absorb carbon dioxide, clean the air and provide for wildlife. But these tiny forests promise even more. They can grow as quickly as ten times the speed of conventional tree plantations, enabling them to support more birds, animals and insects, and to sequester more carbon, while requiring no weeding or watering after the first three years, their creators said. Perhaps more important for urban areas, tiny forests can help lower temperatures in places where pavement, buildings and concrete surfaces absorb and retain heat from the sun. ‘This isn’t just a simple tree-planting method,’ said Katherine Pakradouni, a native plant horticulturist . . .. ‘This is about a whole system of ecology that supports all manner of life, both above and below ground.’

[T]iny forests . . . trace their lineage to the Japanese botanist and plant ecologist Akira Miyawaki, who in 2006 won the Blue Planet Prize, considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award, for his method of creating fast-growing native forests. . . .

Dr. Miyawaki’s prescription involves intense soil restoration and planting many native flora close together. Multiple layers are sown — from shrub to canopy — in a dense arrangement of about three to five plantings per square meter. The plants compete for resources as they race toward the sun, while underground bacteria and fungal communities thrive. Where a natural forest could take at least a century to mature, Miyawaki forests take just a few decades, proponents say. . . .

The [Cambridge MA] Danehy Park forest cost $18,000 for the plants and soil amendments, Mr. Putnam said, while the pocket forest company, SUGi, covered the forest creators’ consulting fees of roughly $9,500. By way of comparison, a Cambridge street tree costs $1,800. . . .

The initial density is crucial to stimulating rapid growth, said Hannah Lewis, the author of “Mini-Forest Revolution. ‘It quickly creates a canopy that shades out weeds, and shelters the microclimate underneath from wind and direct sun, she said.’”)

Shubhendu Sharma, “An engineer’s vision for tiny forests, everywhere,” Ted Talks, March 2014, https://www.ted.com/talks/shubhendu_sharma_an_engineer_s_vision_for_tiny_forests_everywhere?language=en

Tennis courts. “Tennis Court Dimensions & Size,” Harrod Sport, March 27, 2020, https://www.harrodsport.com/advice-and-guides/tennis-court-dimensions (“Tennis Court Dimensions A tennis court is 78ft (23.77m) in length. The courts used for singles matches are 27ft (8.23m) wide, while doubles courts are 36ft (10.97m) wide. The court’s service line is 21ft (6.4m) from the net. . . .

What is the total area of a tennis court? The total area of a tennis court is usually 260.87m² –the total playing area of a doubles court. A singles court, which is often marked within the doubles court has a total playing area of 195.65m². [Math – difference 65.22 – ½ = 32.61 - + 195.65 = 228.26 228.26 sq meters = 2456.970192 sq feet = 0.056404 acre

Basketball courts. M Campbell, “Diagrams of Basketball Courts,” https://www.recunlimited.com/blog/diagrams-basketball-courts/ (“Court Dimensions:

Professional NBA and College Basketball court is 94 feet (29 m) by 50 feet (15 m). [4700 square feet])

# # #

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Cards, Courts and Congress

Court Got It Right on Chevron
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, January 30, 2024, p. A6

Ever heard of Bryan Berg? Me neither.

Iowa State graduate and faculty member, Brian Berg, collects world records for number of playing cards in a house of cards. In 2010 he spent 44 days constructing a replica of the Venetian Macao with 218,000 cards.

Now imagine you created that playing card replica and pranksters think it cool to smash it and watch all 218,000 cards flutter down.

Why do I ask you to imagine?

Because that’s the best analogy I can think of for the Supreme Court’s stretching its long arm of the law into matters the Constitution considers political. Stirring this poisonous stew, bubbling on the back burner behind the curtain, that will forever change our lives. [Photo credit: Supreme Court Historical Society. See, "SOURCES," below for names of current Justices.]

The Constitution leads with, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” Art. I, Sec. 1.

For the last 40 years the Court has followed its unanimous holding in the Chevron case, giving deference to “reasonable” agency interpretations of laws. (“Policy arguments . . . should be addressed to legislators or administrators, not to judges. The EPA's interpretation of the statute . . . represents a reasonable accommodation . . . and is entitled to deference.”)

Congress publishes its laws in the 60,000-page U.S. Code. Few Representatives and Senators have the time to read all of them, let alone enforce their daily administration. What do they do? They create agencies with the power to administer the laws, to write and enforce nearly 200,000 detailed regulations in 242 volumes – under Congress’ watchful eye.

This column is not a legal opinion. But it does draw on experience: Supreme Court law clerk, associate at corporate law firm, head of executive branch agency (MARAD), commissioner of regulatory commission (FCC), presidential advisor, reformer. To borrow from Joni Mitchell, “I’ve looked at Chevron from all sides now.”

My conclusion? Chevron got it right.

In 2022 four percent of the House and Senate candidates received $1 billion in political contributions. Four billion was spent on 12,000 lobbyists. Big corporations need not violate the law because they help write the law – and help select the heads of agencies. Employees move from companies to agencies and back again. Business neither deserves nor needs the Court’s help.

There are already plenty of checks on agencies’ abuses of their power. Congress writes the laws and shapes the agencies’ powers. It hears the complaints of big business – and too often yields. Congress can always change any law or agency regulation. Each agency gets annual congressional oversight by budget and oversight sub-committees.

Big corporations already have too much control over what the Constitution and prior Supreme Courts have ruled is the sole responsibility of Congress. That business keeps knocking on the Supreme Court’s door to grub for more would be as hilarious as a Kathleen Madigan stand-up routine if it were not so outrageous, dangerous, unconstitutional – and costly.

Nicholas Johnson believes, with Winston Churchill, that a constitutional democracy is the least-worst form of government. mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Justices' photos "The Supreme Court -- Current Justices," Supreme Court Historical Society, "Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States," https://supremecourthistory.org/supreme-court-justices/


"Front row, left to right — Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Elena Kagan.

Back row — Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson.")

Bryan Berg “Bryan Berg,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Berg (“In 2010, Berg exceeded his own record by using over 218,000 cards to construct a replica of the Venetian Macao, which took 44 days.”)

Constitution and Congress U.S Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 1, “The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription,” America’s Founding Documents, National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript (“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” Art. I, Sec. 1.)

Art. I, Sec. 8 contains 18 clauses; e.g., General Welfare; Spending and Commerce; Post Offices; Copyright; Maritime, Military and War Powers

“Art. I, Sec. 8: The Congress shall have Power [Clause 1] . . .. To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” [Clause 18.])

Chevron Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (June 25, 1984), Justia, U.S. Supreme Court, https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/467/837/ (“Annotation, Primary Holding: A government agency must conform to any clear legislative statements when interpreting and applying a law, but courts will give the agency deference in ambiguous situations as long as its interpretation is reasonable.”) (pp. 859-866. “Parsing the general terms in the text of the amended Clean Air Act -- particularly the provisions of §§ 302(j) and 111(a)(3) pertaining to the definition of "source" -- does not reveal any actual intent of Congress as to the issue in these cases. To the extent any congressional "intent" can be discerned from the statutory language, it would appear that the listing of overlapping, illustrative terms was intended to enlarge, rather than to confine, the scope of the EPA's power to regulate particular sources in order to effectuate the policies of the Clean Air Act. Similarly, the legislative history is consistent with the view that the EPA should have broad discretion in implementing the policies of the 1977 Amendments. The plantwide definition is fully consistent with the policy of allowing reasonable economic growth, and the EPA has advanced a reasonable explanation for its conclusion that the regulations serve environmental objectives as well. The fact that the EPA has from time to time changed its interpretation of the term "source" does not lead to the conclusion that no deference should be accorded the EPA's interpretation of the statute. An agency, to engage in informed rulemaking, must consider varying interpretations and the wisdom of its policy on a continuing basis. Policy arguments concerning the "bubble concept" should be addressed to legislators or administrators, not to judges. The EPA's interpretation of the statute here represents a reasonable accommodation of manifestly competing interests, and is entitled to deference.”)

No authoritative list Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., “How Many Federal Agencies Exist? We Can't Drain The Swamp Until We Know,” Forbes, July 5, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/waynecrews/2017/07/05/how-many-federal-agencies-exist-we-cant-drain-the-swamp-until-we-know/?sh=61f82b281aa2 (“[The] recent Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies -- had the following to say: ‘[T]here is no authoritative list of government agencies. For example, FOIA.gov [maintained by the Department of Justice] lists 78 independent executive agencies and 174 components of the executive departments as units that comply with the Freedom of Information Act requirements imposed on every federal agency. This appears to be on the conservative end of the range of possible agency definitions. The United States Government Manual lists 96 independent executive units and 220 components of the executive departments. An even more inclusive listing comes from USA.gov, which lists 137 independent executive agencies and 268 units in the Cabinet.’ That's right: There is ‘no authoritative list of government agencies.’")

“A-Z index of U.S. government departments and agencies; Find contact information for U.S. federal government departments and agencies including websites, emails, phone numbers, addresses, and more,” USA.gov, https://www.usa.gov/agency-index .

U.S. Code United States Code,” House of Representatives, https://uscode.house.gov/detailed_guide.xhtml (“The United States Code ("Code") contains the general and permanent laws of the United States, arranged into 54 broad titles according to subject matter. The organization of the Code was originally established by Congress in 1926 with the enactment of the act of June 30, 1926, chapter 712.”)

60,000 Pages in US Code “GPO Produces U.S. Code with New Digital Publishing Technology,” GovInfo, https://www.govinfo.gov/features/uscode-2018 (“The U.S. Code is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States, and is produced in a Main Edition every six years. The 2018 Main Edition is approximately 60,000 pages encompassing 54 volumes, and is prepared by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel.”)

Code of Federal Regulations Clyde Wayne Crews, “Tens of Thousands of Pages and Rules in the Federal Register,” Competitive Enterprise Institute, June 30, 2021, https://cei.org/publication/tens-of-thousands-of-pages-and-rules-in-the-federal-register-2/ (“The Expanding Code of Federal Regulations The page count for final rules in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is not as dramatic as the yearly count of tens of thousands of pages in the Federal Register, but it is still considerable. In 1960, the CFR contained 22,877 pages. Since 1975 until the end of 2019, its total page count had grown from 71,224 to 185,984, including the index—a 161 percent increase. The number of CFR bound volumes stands at 242 for the past four years, compared with 133 in 1975.”)

Nicholas Johnson experience See, “Nicholas Johnson,” Website, nicholasjohnson.org, https://www.nicholasjohnson.org/about/njbio04.html and “Nicholas Johnson, Retired Adjunct Faculty Member,” University of Iowa College of Law, “People,” https://law.uiowa.edu/people/nicholas-johnson

Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides, Now,” incredible rendition by Joni Mitchell at 2022 Newport Folk Festival, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9evpH6yjxrI

“Both Sides, Now,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Both_Sides,_Now

Campaign Contributions; federal, 2022 “Fundraising Totals: Who Raised the Most?” Open Secrets, https://www.opensecrets.org/elections-overview/fundraising-totals (Top 10 House Members, Top 10 (of 33 Senators running) Senators; the total raised by each, when totaled for all 20: $940,895,001). House 435, Senate 100 (one third run every two years). 435 + 33 = 468. Top 20 fundraisers represented 4.273504 percent of 468.)

Registered lobbyists; spending Taylor Giorno, “Federal lobbying spending reaches $4.1 billion in 2022 — the highest since 2010,” Open Secrets, Jan. 26, 2023, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2023/01/federal-lobbying-spending-reaches-4-1-billion-in-2022-the-highest-since-2010/ (“At least 13,784 organizations deployed 12,609 federal lobbyists throughout 2022. . . . Total federal lobbying skyrocketed to $4.1 billion in 2022, a new OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found.”)

Winston Churchill “The worst form of Government,” International Churchill Society, Feb. 25, 2016, https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/quotes/the-worst-form-of-government/ (“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947)

# # #

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Ask Your Doctor

Ask Your Doctor About TV Ads
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, January 16, 2024, p. A5

It’s outrageous that Big Pharma keeps filling our living rooms with TV commercials for pharmaceuticals. Profits for Pharma, profits for TV industry, bad for your health.

All of the United Nation’s 193 countries forbid this manipulation – except the U.S. and New Zealand.

Over 7 billion people agree with me.

Why? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning once put it, “Let me count the ways.”

Examples for starters: Healthcare costs. Generics suppression.

Pressures on doctors. Costs of advertising. Unnecessary prescriptions. Off-label use. Side effects confusion.

For detail on a couple more:

1. One of the most effective ways of increasing Big Pharma’s global sales of $1.48 trillion, while decreasing Americans’ health, is to pound away on our television screens the message that only pills will enable our tiptoeing along the tulips-lined path to health. What a bucket of toenail clippings that is!

The law requires recitation of side effects. But coming at you with the frequency of a crazed woodpecker attacking a tree, amidst the deliberate diversions of dozens of scampering squirrels on the screen? How many side effects can you remember, let alone understand -- except perhaps “can be fatal”? [Photo: screenshot of one frame of pharmaceutical TV commercial. ("Fair use" because: Not of financial benefit to blog; tiny portions of drug commercial and of blog post; not used for art, but for news reporting and commentary; product not identified.) "Can be fatal" mentioned as possible side effect in sound track, but not in scrolled text of side effects on screen.)

Google “What will reduce your chances of getting cancer, a heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia or other serious diseases -- while increasing years of quality life?”

Notice how few answers involve pills? Notice the overlap in recommendations – regardless of the disease?

You and I hold the keys to our pill-free longevity, health and happiness. Foods like fruits and vegetables (rather than sweet grease and salty grease), movement and exercise (150 minutes a week rather than recliner hours), regular sound sleep (7-8 hours rather than all-nighters), vaccinations, weight control (track your BMI), social time (face-to-face, smart phones pocketed), stress reduction, no tobacco and little alcohol.

It's not the law, it’s your choice.

Only take what your doctor prescribes. Ignore Pharma’s pricey pills promotions. Save your money.

Create your own health.

2. Why does Big Pharma spend a billion a month advertising pills to people who can’t legally buy them?

Ever thought about that? We can’t buy this stuff without a doctor’s prescription.

It’s like manufacturers putting TV commercials for toys in children’s programs. Few children in that audience can afford them. But manufacturers profit off the free child labor that will pester parents.

Similarly, Big Pharma’s TV ads are the drug pushers’ effort to profit off free adult labor pestering doctors.

3. “It’s all about the money.”

There are many providers of products and services, capitalist competitors with prices regulated by “the market,” who well serve the public. But there are essentials, such as housing and health care, for which charging an unregulated, profit-maximizing price is unacceptable. Especially when Americans must pay for a drug 8 times the price charged in Turkey, as taxpayers pay half the total pharmaceutical research costs, and Big Pharma keeps all the profits.

In the spirit of “All the News That Fits We Print,” this is only a sample. Want more? Ask your doctor.

Nicholas Johnson was former co-director of the Iowa Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy. Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

193 countries; 191 forbid TV pharmaceutical commercials.

“Who are the current members of the United Nations?” Dag Hammarskjold Library, United Nations, Dec. 5, 2023, https://ask.un.org/faq/14345 (“There are currently 193 UN Member States. Each of the Member States of the United Nations has one seat in the General Assembly.”)

Ziad F. Gellad and Kenneth W. Lyles, “Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Pharmaceuticals,” National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967783/ [Am. J. Med., 2007 Jun.] (“Direct-to-consumer advertising emerged from relative obscurity in 1997 to become a potent force shaping the future of health care, and the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world at present to allow it.”)

7 billion in 191 countries (world minus U.S. and New Zealand).

“World Population 1950-2024,” macriotrends, https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/WLD/world/population (“The current population of World in 2024 is 8,118,835,999, a 0.91% increase from 2023.”)

“U.S. and World Population Clock,” U.S. Population, U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/popclock/ (“The United States Population on Jan. 9, 2024 was: 335,921,625)

“New Zealand Population,” worldometers, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/new-zealand-population/ (“New Zealand Population (LIVE) [Jan. 10, 2024], 5,250,254)

(US + NZ = 341,171,879)

(World – US & NZ = 7,777,664,120)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning “count the ways”).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43), poets.org, https://poets.org/poem/how-do-i-love-thee-sonnet-43 (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach,. . ..”)

Examples for starters.

See, “Reasons to oppose TV pharmaceutical commercials,” below.

$1.48 trillion.

“Global pharmaceutical industry - statistics & facts,” statista, https://www.statista.com/topics/1764/global-pharmaceutical-industry/ (“The market has experienced significant growth during the past two decades, and pharma revenues worldwide totaled 1.48 trillion U.S. dollars in 2022.”)

FDA regulation of TV pharmaceutical commercials.

“Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Advertisements: Presentation of the Major Statement in a Clear, Conspicuous, and Neutral Manner in Advertisements in Television and Radio Format,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Nov. 21, 2023, https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/economic-impact-analyses-fda-regulations/direct-consumer-prescription-drug-advertisements-presentation-major-statement-clear-conspicuous-and (“This final rule implements a statutory requirement that in human prescription drug advertisements presented directly to consumers in television or radio format (DTC TV/radio ads), and stating the name of the drug and its conditions of use, the major statement relating to side effects and contraindications must be presented in a clear, conspicuous, and neutral manner.”)

Alternatives to pills.

Meghan Rosen, “When it comes to physical activity, every bit counts; There’s no such thing as “the best exercise.” Rather lots of things — big and small — can help,” Science News, Jan. 2, 2024, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/physical-activity-exercise-health-benefits

Talk to your primary care physician – or browse the Mayo Clinic site (https://www.mayoclinic.org/). Mayo says “Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and strengthen your bones and muscles.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/basics/fitness-basics/hlv-20049447



“Can You Lengthen Your Life? Researchers Explore How To Stay Healthy Longer,” NIH News in Health, June 2016, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2016/06/can-you-lengthen-your-life [https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/]

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/ (Healthy lifestyle topics Birth control - Healthy lifestyle topics Birth control Consumer health - Healthy lifestyle topics Consumer health Fitness - Healthy lifestyle topics Fitness Nutrition and healthy eating - Healthy lifestyle topics Nutrition and healthy eating Quit smoking - Healthy lifestyle topics Quit smoking Sexual health - Healthy lifestyle topics Sexual health Stress management - Healthy lifestyle topics Stress management Weight loss - Healthy lifestyle topics Weight loss)

“Prevent Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/prevention.htm (fresh fruits and vegetables; healthy weight; physical activity (150 minutes/week))

Exercise and chronic disease: Get the facts

Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org › in-depth › art-20046049 Exercise can improve the quality of life for people who've had cancer. It ... For people with type 2 diabetes, exercise can lower the risk of dying of heart ...

It's Never Too Late: Five Healthy Steps at Any Age

Johns Hopkins Medicine https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org › health › its-never-... Exercise lowers your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure ... to reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and dementia. ‎Be Active More Often · ‎Improve Your Diet · ‎Challenge Your Brain

Promoting Health for Older Adults

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (.gov) https://www.cdc.gov › publications › factsheets › pro... Aging increases the risk of chronic diseases such as dementias, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. These are the nation's leading drivers of ...

Big Pharma’s advertising budget.

“Pharma advertising spending in the United States from October 2022 to January 2023,” statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1407234/pharma-ad-spend-us/ (Oct. 2022 and Nov. 2022 $1.2 billion each month; Dec. 2022 and Jan. 2023 $1.1 billion each month)

ICYMI: NEW STUDY FINDS BIG PHARMA SPENT MORE ON SALES AND MARKETING THAN R&D DURING PANDEMIC; AHIP Study Finds Top Drug Companies’ Sales and Marketing Budgets Swamp R&D Budgets,” Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, https://www.csrxp.org/icymi-new-study-finds-big-pharma-spent-more-on-sales-and-marketing-than-rd-during-pandemic/ (“In case you missed it, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) released a new study Wednesday that found Big Pharma continued to spend more advertising and selling its products than investing in research and development (R&D) even amid unprecedented focus on the development of new treatments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study found that ‘Of the 10 drug manufacturers examined, 7 of them spent more on selling and marketing expenses than they did on research and development.’”)

Reasons to oppose TV pharmaceutical commercials.

“A Perilous Prescription: The Dangers of Unregulated Drug Ads; Drug advertising policies need to be updated to protect public health,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,” March 2, 2023, https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2023/the-dangers-of-unregulated-drug-ads

Natasha Parekh and William H. Shrank, “Dangers and Opportunities of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising,” J Gen Intern Med. 2018 May; 33(5): 586–587; NIH, National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, May 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5910355/ (“The average television viewer in the United States (US) watches as many as nine drug advertisements per day and about 16 hours per year, far exceeding the time an average individual spends with his/her primary care physician.1 Since 2012 [2013-2017], spending on drug commercials has increased by 62%, and $5 billion were spent on drug commercials last year.2 Given their ubiquity, the article by Klara, et al. in this issue of JGIM offers one more piece of evidence to indicate that this medium is not operating as intended, and to force us to consider alternatives to the status quo.3 . . . the FDA has won substantial law suits and enforced penalties against pharmaceutical companies. For example, in 2012, Glaxo Smith Kline paid $3 billion and Abbott paid $1.6 billion in penalties for miscommunicating information in DTC advertising, while Eli Lilly paid $1.4 billion and Pfizer paid $2.3 billion in 2009.5 . . . DTC ads have been shown to misinform patients by over-emphasizing treatment benefits, under-emphasizing treatment risks, and promoting drugs over healthy lifestyle choices.1, 6 DTC advertising may also lead to overutilization and inappropriate prescribing.6 . . . Patients who requested drugs received them significantly more often than those who did not, suggesting patient requests have a dramatic effect on physician prescribing.7 Furthermore, critics argue that DTC advertising can impose strains on the patient-physician relationship and limit already limited appointment time with patients.1, 6 Perhaps the most significant critique of DTC advertising is its effects on rising drug costs due to over-prescribing of both inappropriate and brand name drugs (especially when cheaper generics are available). According to the Department of Health and Human Services, prescription drug spending in the US was about $457 billion in 2015.8 . . . The authors found that among 97 advertisements reviewed by authors, the quality of data presented was low—26% provided quantitative information for efficacy and benefit, 0% provided quantitative information on risks, and 13% promoted off-label use of medications (which is banned by the FDA). . . . How can we optimize the benefits of DTC advertising in empowering and engaging patients while minimizing the attendant risks of poor-quality DTC advertising? One option supported by the American Medical Association is banning DTC advertising.9 [9. American Medical Association. AMA Calls for Ban on DTC Ads of Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices. Published November 2015. Available at: https://www.ama-assn.org/content/ama-calls-ban-direct-consumer-advertising-prescription-drugs-and-medical-devices. Accessed January 1, 2018.] It is notable that, outside of the US, DTC advertising is banned in all other countries except New Zealand.”])

Examples of drugs, commercials (text and videos); Ineffective recitation of side effects.

Google: 2023 TV pharmaceuticals commercials

YouTube: 2023 TV pharmaceuticals commercials

Specific YouTube search: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=2023+TV+pharmaceuticals+commercials

Paxlovid Jardiance (4) Ozempic Otezla Chantix Pfizer vaccine Mounjaro “Pharmaceutical Ads – View Full Playlist” Dupixent “Find Pharma Ads – Browse Our Wide Range of Results”

TIME – Deceptive Drug Ads, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7FGtYVQMFc

Amount Big Pharma spends on TV ads.

Julia Faria, “Pharma and healthcare industry advertising in the U.S. - statistics & facts,” statista, Dec. 18, 2023, https://www.statista.com/topics/8415/pharma-and-healthcare-industry-advertising-in-the-us/#topicOverview (“Prescription drug expenditure in the United States from 1960 to 2021,” $378 billion in 2021; “Pharma advertising spending in the United States from October 2022 to January 2023,” each month from Oct. to Dec. of 2022, and Jan. 2023, Pharma advertising was between $1.1 and $1.2 billion per month)

TV audience can’t legally buy product (without prescription).

“Prescription Medicines,” Healthy Living; Use Medicines Safely, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/healthy-living/safety/use-medicines-safely (“Prescription medicines are medicines you can get only with a prescription (order) from your doctor. You get these medicines from a pharmacy. These medicines are only safe to use if your name is on the prescription.”)

“Prescription Drugs Fast Facts,” U.S. Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs5/5140/5140p.pdf (“Yes, it is illegal to use prescription drugs without a valid prescription or to distribute them.”)

Advertising children’s toys to children.

“Money Sense for Your Children – The Pressures of Advertising,” Areas of Interest, Extension, University of Nevada, https://extension.unr.edu/areas-of-interest.aspx (“Children and Advertising According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2004 children ages 2 to 11 saw 25,600 total TV ads and 2 1/4 hours of ad-supported TV a day.1 . . . Many of the things that children request are things they want because of high-pressure advertising on TV, the Internet, radio and billboards and in movies, newspapers and magazines. Children who haven’t learned to read yet can recite TV commercials. Exposed to the highly developed sales techniques used in most media, our children are constantly pressured to buy. Advertisers specifically tailor their work based on research. Companies start early creating brand-loyal customers. Groups of 3- to 5-year-olds were able to identify logos for fast food, retail stores and TV icons when shown “flash cards.”2 Celebrities and program icons encourage youth to identify happiness with possessions and endlessly urge the buying of expensive clothes and branded foods. . . . “But First This Important Message . . .” Are those words familiar to you? They should be. The website for the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Better Business Bureau includes this comment: “It is estimated that children in this nation watch an average of 3.5 hours of television every day, the equivalent on an annual basis of a 50-day marathon of TV viewing.” Forty percent of infants are regular TV and DVD viewers, and that number jumps to 90 percent for 2-year-olds.5”)

Where “the market” well serves the public.

“How the U.S. Economy Works,” U.S. Department of State, https://usa.usembassy.de/etexts/oecon/chap2.htm (“There are limits to free enterprise, however. Americans have always believed that some services are better performed by public rather than private enterprise. For instance, in the United States, government is primarily responsible for the administration of justice, education (although there are many private schools and training centers), the road system, social statistical reporting, and national defense. In addition, government often is asked to intervene in the economy to correct situations in which the price system does not work. It regulates "natural monopolies," for example, and it uses antitrust laws to control or break up other business combinations that become so powerful that they can surmount market forces.”)

Housing prices.

Mike Bebernes, “Rent control is making a comeback,” Yahoo News 360, Jan. 31, 2023, https://news.yahoo.com/rent-control-is-making-a-comeback-201559070.html (With rental prices still up significantly from where they stood before the pandemic, a growing number of cities across the country are dusting off an old solution to keep housing costs affordable: rent control. During November’s midterm elections, voters in Santa Monica, Calif., Portland, Maine, and Orlando all approved ballot measures that would place new limits on annual rent increases. Boston’s progressive mayor recently released a rent control proposal for the city. In early January, a group of 50 Democrats in Congress sent a letter urging the Biden administration to take action to address “historically high rental costs and housing instability” in the U.S., including “anti-rent gouging” measures. . . . But the new wave of rent control proponents . . . argue that housing has become such an unmanageable expense for millions of Americans that allowing prices to rise without any limitations is a recipe for widespread displacement, higher poverty and homelessness.”)

Prices for U.S. drugs in U.S. are 8 times prices in Turkey.

Katharina Bucholz, “U.S. Drug Prices Sky-High in International Comparison,” Statista, Aug. 9, 2022, https://www.statista.com/chart/27932/us-prescription-drug-prices-in-international-comparison/ (“Depending on the country of comparison, U.S. residents are paying twice as much, three times as much or even more for their prescription drugs. Research by Rand Corporation has found that U.S. prescription drug prices surpass those in 32 other countries by around 150 percent on average. U.S. patients are even paying triple the price for Rx drugs as Koreans, Portuguese and Australians and 3.5 times as much as Slovakians, Greeks and residents of some of the Baltic countries. Turkey saw the cheapest prescription drug prices in the comparison, with Americans paying almost eight times as much as residents there.”)

Taxpayers pay half of pharmaceutical research costs.

Ekaterina Galkina Cleary, Matthew J. Jackson, Edward W. Zhou, “Comparison of Research Spending on New Drug Approvals by the National Institutes of Health vs the Pharmaceutical Industry, 2010-2019,” [American Medical Association] JAMA Health Forum. 2023;4(4):e230511. doi:10.1001/jamahealthforum. 2023.0511; https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama-health-forum/fullarticle/2804378

(“Conclusions and Relevance The results of this cross-sectional study found that NIH investment in drugs approved from 2010 to 2019 was not less than investment by the pharmaceutical industry, with comparable accounting for basic and applied research, failed clinical trials, and cost of capital or discount rates. The relative scale of NIH and industry investment may provide a cost basis for calibrating the balance of social and private returns from investments in pharmaceutical innovation. . . .

In this cross-sectional study, evidence suggests the public sector makes substantial contributions to the foundational knowledge on which drug approvals are based,1,2,4,6-8,41,42 but less to patents6,9 or development.2,3,37,43 Conversely, the industry is primarily responsible for product development and sponsored more than 99% of the product launches in this data set.6

The objective of this work was to compare NIH investments in recent drug approvals with reported investment by the industry. This required an accounting for NIH spending with costs for basic research on the targets for these drugs, applied research on the approved products, phased clinical trials of failed products, and the recommended discount rates for government spending.30,31 This accounting adheres closely to methods used to estimate industry investment,19,20 while also recognizing fundamental differences in the nature of public and private sector investment in prevailing economic theories.10

These analyses suggest that NIH project costs for basic or applied research associated with the products approved from 2010 to 2019 were significantly greater than reported industry spending. Costs for the NIH were also higher than industry costs when both included spending on failed clinical trials of candidate products. Including clinical failures, NIH investment (calculated with either a 3% or 7% discount rate) was not less than industry investment calculated with a 10.5% cost of capital. Investment from the NIH calculated with clinical failures and a 3% or 7% discount rate was also not less than industry investment calculated with clinical failures, additional costs of prehuman research, and 10.5% cost of capital. These results suggest that NIH investments in pharmaceutical innovation are comparable with those made by industry.”)

Dr. Ekaterina Galkina Cleary, Dr. Matthew Jackson and Dr. Edward Zhou, “New study shows NIH investment in new drug approvals is comparable to investment by pharmaceutical industry,” Newsroom, Bentley University, https://www.bentley.edu/news/new-study-shows-nih-investment-new-drug-approvals-comparable-investment-pharmaceutical

“All the news that fits we print.”

“Adolph Simon Ochs,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Adolph-Simon-Ochs#ref754367 (To set his paper apart from its more sensational competitors, Ochs adopted the slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print” (first used October 25, 1896) and insisted on reportage that lived up to that promise.)

Judy Flander, “All The News That Fits We Print,” Personally Yours, Medium, Oct. 13, 2020, https://medium.com/personally-yours/all-the-news-that-fits-we-print-76c73e50439c

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Sunday, December 31, 2023

New Year's and World Peace

New Year's and World Peace
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, December 31, 2023, p. C8

“Back in the day” I joined friends on New Year’s Eve to help push earth into one more year. We occasionally kept at it until 1 or 2 a.m. New Year’s Day, either to make sure we’d finished the task or because we’d lost track of time.

As we aged we remained determined to stay until midnight local time, but not much beyond that.

The years rolled on and many wished to be in bed before midnight. So we switched our clocks to Eastern time, watched television’s portrayal of New York City ringing in the new year at midnight New York time, headed home an hour earlier and were in bed by 11:30 central time.

And now?

I’m reminded of Laura Bush’s stand-up routine at a press corps dinner. She interrupted President George W. Bush’s speech: “I’ve got a few things I want to say for a change. (George is) usually in bed by now. (I told him) if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later. Nine o’clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep and I’m watching ‘Desperate Housewives.’”

How many of us 90-year-olds can relate to that?

Many of the world’s cultures and religions have celebrations around the winter solstice. I’m told in Spain they eat 12 grapes. We, by contrast, welcome the yearly opportunity to overeat for the six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. It’s just a difference in cultures.

New Year’s Day has walked a long and winding road through history, beginning with welcoming floods and the new agricultural year. Babylonians and Sumerians in Mesopotamia welcomed the flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Egyptians marked the beginning of the new year’s agriculture when the Nile flooded.

Iowa’s farmers also focus on next season’s crops -- buying from monopolists, selling to monopolists, hoping for rain without floods.

New Year’s Day celebrations interweave gods, religious beliefs, stars and planets. Though there are many calendars (e.g., Coptic, Seleucid, Egyptian, Jewish and Zodiac), our Christian calendar’s New Year’s is widely accepted.

That’s right, we are praying to a Catholic pope’s 1582 calendar. We may not understand or adopt the metric system, and our children’s math scores may be falling, but we are attracted like iron filings to a magnet with the numerical precision of 24-hour days, 52 weeks and 28-to-31-day months.

How could we use New Year’s to push 8 billion people closer toward the “world peace” Miss America contestants wish for?

With Universal Time Coordinated (UTC). Google it.

We now have 24 time zones and 24 New Year’s midnights -– further separating humans. [Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, London fireworks, New Year's Day, 2017.]

Airlines, radio amateurs, numerous industries and the military recognize the “local” times around the planet. But to operate globally they also need an everywhere time. UTC time is London time. Noon in Iowa is 6 PM UTC.

With a UTC New Year’s the world celebrates at the same precise moment. Starting the year agreeing about something. What a concept!

Nicholas Johnson wishes everyone a happier New Year than the year we’re leaving behind. Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

New Year’s

“New Year,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Year

Laura Bush

AP, “Laura Bush steals show at press corps’ dinner; First lady Laura Bush stole the show with a surprise comedy routine that ripped President Bush and brought an audience that included much of official Washington and a dash of Hollywood to a standing ovation at a dinner honoring award-winning journalists,” NBC News, April 30, 2006, . https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna7693810 (““Not that old joke, not again,” she said to the delight of the audience. “I’ve been attending these dinners for years and just quietly sitting there. I’ve got a few things I want to say for a change.” [George is] usually in bed by now” and said she told him recently, “If you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later.” She outlined a typical evening: “Nine o’clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep and I’m watching ‘Desperate Housewives’.”)

Spain’s grapes

“Twelve Grapes,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Grapes (“The Twelve Grapes[1] (Sp. las doce uvas de la suerte, "the twelve grapes of luck") is a Spanish tradition that consists of eating a grape with each of the twelve clock bell strikes at midnight of December 31 to welcome the New Year. Each grape and clock bell strike represents each of the coming twelve months.[2]”)

Mesopotamia and Egypt

Evan Andrews, “1. Babylonian Akitu “5 Ancient New Year’s Celebrations; Get the facts on the ways 5 ancient civilizations rang in the New Year,” History, Dec. 31, 2012, https://www.history.com/news/5-ancient-new-years-celebrations (“Following the first new moon after the vernal equinox in late March, the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia would honor the rebirth of the natural world with a multi-day festival called Akitu. This early New Year’s celebration dates back to around 2000 B.C., and is believed to have been deeply intertwined with religion and mythology. . . . Through these rituals the Babylonians believed the world was symbolically cleansed and recreated by the gods in preparation for the new year and the return of spring.”

Patrick J. Kiger, “How Mesopotamia Became the Cradle of Civilization; Environmental factors helped agriculture, architecture and eventually a social order emerge for the first time in ancient Mesopotamia,” History, Nov. 10, 2020, https://www.history.com/news/how-mesopotamia-became-the-cradle-of-civilization (“Mesopotamia’s name comes from the ancient Greek word for “the land between the rivers.” That’s a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the twin sources of water for a region that lies mostly within the borders of modern-day Iraq, but also included parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran. The presence of those rivers had a lot to do with why Mesopotamia developed complex societies and innovations such as writing, elaborate architecture and government bureaucracies. The regular flooding along the Tigris and the Euphrates made the land around them especially fertile and ideal for growing crops for food.”)

Evan Andrews, “3. Ancient Egyptian Wepet Renpet,” “5 Ancient New Year’s Celebrations; Get the facts on the ways 5 ancient civilizations rang in the New Year,” History, Dec. 4, 2023, https://www.history.com/news/5-ancient-new-years-celebrations (“Ancient Egyptian culture was closely tied to the Nile River, and it appears their New Year corresponded with its annual flood. According the Roman writer Censorinus, the Egyptian New Year was predicted when Sirius—the brightest star in the night sky—first became visible after a 70-day absence. Better known as a heliacal rising, this phenomenon typically occurred in mid-July just before the annual inundation of the Nile River, which helped ensure that farmlands remained fertile for the coming year. Egyptians celebrated this new beginning with a festival known as Wepet Renpet, which means “opening of the year.” The New Year was seen as a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, and it was honored with feasts and special religious rites.”)

Evan Andrews, “4. Lunar New Year,” “5 Ancient New Year’s Celebrations; Get the facts on the ways 5 ancient civilizations rang in the New Year,” History, Dec. 31, 2012, https://www.history.com/news/5-ancient-new-years-celebrations (“One of the oldest traditions still celebrated today is Lunar New Year (also called Chinese New Year), which is believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. The holiday began as a way of celebrating the new beginnings of the spring planting season, but it later became entangled with myth and legend.”)

Agriculture’s monopolists

“Monopolies Are Killing Our Farms,” Bemidji Pioneer, April 15, 2010, https://www.bemidjipioneer.com/opinion/monopolies-are-killing-our-farms (“Has Big Ag gotten too big? And do consumers really benefit from the low prices farmers earn for selling livestock and grain to food giants like Cargill, Smithfield, and Tyson? After two decades standing idly by while those companies and seed behemoth Monsanto swallowed their competitors, a new Department of Justice anti-trust team is vowing to bust up companies that have gotten so big they're thwarting competition. . . . [F]amily farmers and independent ranchers have watched as corporate mergers and takeovers left them with fewer buyers for their crops and animals, and fewer suppliers of basic inputs like seeds and fertilizer. . . . Smithfield's 2007 takeover of Premium Standard Farms, a merger that fattened the largest U.S. hog producer and pork packer by feeding it the country's second-largest producer and sixth-largest packer. In the Southeast, the merger left 2,500 independent hog producers with just one regional buyer. Smithfield could say to the hog farmers who weren't under contract to the company: Here's the price and, if you don't like it, good luck selling your hogs.”)

Varieties of New Year’s celebrations

Cheyenne Buckingham and John Harrington, “26 Completely Different New Year’s Days Around the World,” 24/7 Wall St., updated Jan. 11, 2020, https://247wallst.com/special-report/2019/02/01/26-completely-different-new-years-days-around-the-world-3/ (“People all around the globe ring in the new year, but not all celebrate the same way Americans do, or even on the same day. Though people have different traditions and customs, most feel grateful for the year that passed and optimistic about the one that’s about to begin. Several New Year’s celebrations stretch across several days, like the Burmese and Thai New Year. The Chinese New Year is the longest, lasting 15 days.”)

Varieties of calendars

Miriammne Ara Krummel, “A.D. 2022: Why Years Are Counted with a Gregorian Calendar When Most of the World is Note Christian,” Milwaukee Independent, Jan. 1, 2022, https://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/syndicated/d-2022-years-counted-gregorian-calendar-world-not-christian/ (“The A.D. system, often called “C.E.” or “Common Era” time today, was introduced in Europe during the Middle Ages. It joined the world’s other temporal systems like the Coptic, Seleucid, Egyptian, Jewish and the Zodiac calendars, along with calculations based on the years of rulers’ reigns and the founding of Rome.”)

Near-global acceptance of Christian calendar’s New Year’s

Miriammne Ara Krummel, “A.D. 2022: Why Years Are Counted with a Gregorian Calendar When Most of the World is Note Christian,” Milwaukee Independent, Jan. 1, 2022, https://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/syndicated/d-2022-years-counted-gregorian-calendar-world-not-christian/ (“On December 31, people from cultures all around the world welcomed in A.D. 2022. Few of them thought about the fact that A.D. signals “anno Domini,” Latin for “in the year of our Lord.” In A.D. temporality – the one acknowledged by most societies today – next year marks 2023 years since the purported birth of Jesus Christ. So why did we all toast this new year, given that most of the world’s nearly 8 billion people are not Christians? . . . The A.D. system, often called “C.E.” or “Common Era” time today, was introduced in Europe during the Middle Ages. It joined the world’s other temporal systems like the Coptic, Seleucid, Egyptian, Jewish and the Zodiac calendars, along with calculations based on the years of rulers’ reigns and the founding of Rome. Latin Christendom slowly but confidently came to dominate Europe, and its year dating system then came to dominate the world, so that most countries now take A.D. for granted, at least when it comes to globalized business and government. A.D.‘s ubiquity has almost silenced other ways of thinking about time. This began during the medieval era, under the influence of educated Christian monks . . ..”)

Catholic Pope’s 1582 calendar

“Gregorian calendar,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

America’s rejection of metric system

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Use the Metric System?” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/story/why-doesnt-the-us-use-the-metric-system

(“When they began to vet potential systems around the year 1790, the newly developed French metric system made its way to the attention of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Though it was so close at hand, Jefferson, and even France until much later, decided to pass, and the U.S. adopted the British Imperial System of measurement (the one still used in the country today). Since then, the U.S. has had many opportunities to change to the metric system, the one that is used by a majority of the world and that is lauded as much more logical and simple. . . . Whenever the discussion of switching unit systems arose in Congress, the passage of a bill favoring the metric system was thwarted by big businesses and American citizens who didn’t want to go through the time-consuming and expensive hassle of changing the country’s entire infrastructure.”)

“Metric Conversion Act,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_Conversion_Act (“The Metric Board was abolished in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan . . ..”)

Reduction in math test scores

Alexander Fabino, “America's Tanking Math Scores Spark Fears of Mental Decline,” Newsweek, Dec. 5, 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/us-students-math-scores-decline-pisa-assessment-mental-health-concerns-1849812#:~:text=Despite%20stable%20performances%20in%20reading,that%20participated%20in%20the%20assessment (“Despite stable performances in reading and science, the PISA results found that U.S. students' average performance in mathematics literacy in 2022 was markedly lower than in previous cycles, falling to 26th globally in math literacy among the 81 countries and education systems that participated in the assessment.”)

8 billion people

“Current World Population,” worldometer, Dec. 26, 2023, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ (8,081,286,900 @ 8:31 AM)

Miss America contestants and “world peace”

Chad Gramling, “Why Do We Expect World Peace From Miss America, But Not Jesus?” 1Glories, Dec. 30, 2021, https://www.1glories.com/world-peace-miss-america-jesus/#:~:text=World%20Peace%20is%20one%20of,in%20the%20movie%20Miss%20Congeniality (“World Peace is one of just two easy answers in life. It’s the correct response when a pageant contestant is asked what she would most want to see happen during her lifetime. This response is the mocked canned answer made famous in the movie Miss Congeniality.”)

Universal Time Coordinated (UTC)

“Coordinated Universal Time,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coordinated_Universal_Time

UTC used by Airlines, radio amateurs, numerous industries and the military

Jo Craven McGinty, “Major Industries Use Coordinated Universal Time. Why Doesn’t Everyone Else?; An economist and an astronomer want the world to abandon local time zones,” The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/major-industries-use-coordinated-universal-time-why-doesnt-everyone-else-11562923800

Noon in Iowa is 6 PM UTC

See “Universal Time Coordinated (UTC),” above

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

E Pluribus Unum

E Pluribus Unum is Threatened
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, December 19, 2023, p. A6

Pull a dollar bill from your billfold. Look at the back. Our Congress of the Confederation founders put that Great Seal on their money in 1782 before creating the United States. It’s still there.

The superstitious recoil from hotels with a 13th floor. They favor floors numbered 11, 12, 14, 15. Our founders loved 13 – 13 states, 13 stars in the Seal, and 13 letters in E Pluribus Unum (after removing the “x” from Ex).

Did you study Latin? No? Me neither. Fifty-six percent of high school students studied Latin in 1905. Presidents John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton did so. By 1977 only 6,000 students struggled with the national exam.

Thankfully, “Google translate” studies Latin. It reveals our money’s motto means “out of many, one.” Google is not reassuring us that while we’re out of many dollars we still have one. Google’s sharing the founders’ long shot they could blend 13 states into one United States.

But compare the founders’ challenges – 13 states and four million people – with ours: 50 states and 340 million people. People breathing in the polluted air of deliberate divisiveness and politically promoted hatred, occasionally bursting into flames of violence, leaving ashes from which authoritarian dictatorships emerge.

Some politicians and their followers shout demands that immigrants seeking asylum be sent back to their home country – and almost certain death – without a hearing. Those advocates ignore, if they ever knew, that their ancestors also immigrated to this county, often for similar reasons. Unless, that is, they’re registered members of one of America’s 574 Indian tribes.

It’s easy to notice the many differences among us -- languages, ethnicity, customs, religion, wealth, norms, appearance, and political affiliation. We sometimes forget we are 99.9 percent identical in genetic makeup and belong to the same animal species: Homo sapiens.

Those differences dissolve like fog in the sunshine when disaster strikes – floods from heavy rain, rising seas or rivers; home-destroying derechos, tornadoes and hurricanes; fires, airplane or highway disasters, mass shootings and a 9/11 or Oklahoma City bombing.

Well folks, don’t want to scare you, but we may soon find ourselves struggling with a disaster to end all disasters.

We need to realize, as we descend the waterslide of democracy into the Putin-like polluted pool of political populism, that loss of our 247-year-old democracy is upon us.

We can no longer smugly say, “It can’t happen here.” It’s already happening here. It’s no longer a matter of saving our democracy, it’s a matter of rebuilding a democracy.

Don’t whine about the things an individual Gazette subscriber can’t do – compete with billionaires’ political contributions, or knock on every Iowan’s door.

What we can create is what we do in disasters. What the Youngbloods sang in “Get Together”:

“Come on people now
"Smile on your brother (and sister)
"Everybody get together
"Try to love one another
"Right now”

Gift a stranger with a smile and “Good morning.” Pay a compliment. Do a favor.

E Pluribus Unum.

Nicholas Johnson authored the books Columns of Democracy and Test Pattern for Living. Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

E Pluribus Unum

“E pluribus unum,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_pluribus_unum (“E pluribus unum . . . – Latin for "Out of many, one . . . – is a traditional motto of the United States, appearing on the Great Seal . . . its inclusion on the seal was approved in an act of the Congress of the Confederation in 1782.”)

Thirteenth Floor

“Thirteenth Floor,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_floor (“The thirteenth floor is a designation of a level of a multi-level building that is often omitted in countries where the number 13 is considered unlucky.[1][2] Omitting the 13th floor may take a variety of forms; the most common include denoting what would otherwise be considered the thirteenth floor as level 14, giving the thirteenth floor an alternate designation such as "12A" or "M" (the thirteenth letter of the Latin alphabet), or closing the 13th floor to public occupancy or access (e.g., by designating it as a mechanical floor). Reasons for omitting a thirteenth floor include triskaidekaphobia on the part of the building's owner or builder, or a desire by the building owner or landlord to prevent problems that may arise with superstitious tenants, occupants, or customers. In 2002, based on an internal review of records, Dilip Rangnekar of Otis Elevators estimated that 85% of the buildings with Otis brand elevators did not have a floor named the 13th floor.[3] Early tall-building designers, fearing a fire on the 13th floor, or fearing tenants' superstitions about the rumor, decided to omit having a 13th floor listed on their elevator numbering.[3] This practice became commonplace, and eventually found its way into American mainstream culture and building design.[3]”)


Harry Mount, “A Vote for Latin,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/03/opinion/03mount.html (“In 1905, 56 percent of American high school students studied Latin. By 1977, a mere 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam. . . . Of the 40 presidents since Jefferson, 31 have studied Latin, many at a high level. James Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina, in 1818, with top honors in math and classics. James Garfield taught Greek and Latin from 1856 to 1857 at what is now Hiram College in Ohio. Teddy Roosevelt studied classics at Harvard.

John F. Kennedy had Latin instruction at not one, but three prep schools. Richard Nixon showed a great aptitude for the language, coming second in the subject at Whittier High School in California in 1930. And George H. W. Bush, a Latin student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was a member of the fraternity Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas (Authority, Unity, Truth).

A particular favorite for Bill Clinton during his four years of Latin at Hot Springs High School in Arkansas was Caesar’s “Gallic War.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush studied Latin at Phillips Academy (the school’s mottoes: “Non Sibi” or not for self, and “Finis Origine Pendet,” the end depends on the beginning).”)

Google Translate

“Google Translate,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Translate (“Google Translate is a multilingual neural machine translation service developed by Google to translate text, documents and websites from one language into another. . . . In November 2016, Google transitioned its translating method to a system called neural machine translation.[13] It uses deep learning techniques to translate whole sentences at a time, which has been measured to be more accurate between English and French, German, Spanish, and Chinese.[14] No measurement results have been provided by Google researchers for GNMT from English to other languages, other languages to English, or between language pairs that do not include English. As of 2018, it translates more than 100 billion words a day.[13]”)

US Population 1782

Cynthia A. Kierner, “First United States Census, 1790,” Washington Library, Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-united-states-census-1790/ (“The final tally, released by the government in 1792 and also included in digest form in some almanacs and geographies, was 3,919,023 people, divided among fourteen states, Kentucky (a territory before attaining statehood in 1792), and the Southwest territories (Tennessee).10”)

US Population 2023

“U.S. Population 1950-2023,” macrotrends, https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/population (339,996,563)

U.S. Ancestries

“Ancestry: 2000,” U.S. Census Bureau, June 2004, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/ancestry.pdf (“In total, 7 ancestries were reported by more than 15 million people in 2000, 37 ancestries were reported by more than 1 million people, and 92 ancestries were reported by more than 100,000 people.”)

Indian Tribes

“Federally recognized Indian tribes and resources for Native Americans; Find information about and resources for Native Americans and Alaska Native entities,” usagov, https://www.usa.gov/tribes# (“The federal government recognizes 574 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities in the U.S.”)

Humans share 99.9% genetic makeup

James Franklin Crow, “Unequal by nature: a geneticist’s perspective on human differences,” Daedalus, Winter 2002, https://www.amacad.org/publication/unequal-nature-geneticists-perspective-human-differences (“Most of our DNA determines that we are human, rather than determining how we are different from any other person. So it is not so surprising that the DNA of any two human beings is 99.9 percent identical.”)

Homo sapiens

“Homo sapiens,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-sapiens, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-sapiens (“Homo sapiens, (Latin: “wise man”) the species to which all modern human beings belong. Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped into the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct. See also human evolution.”)

Lyrics to “Get Together”

Chester Powers and Chester William Jr. Powers, “Get Together by The Youngbloods,” https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/the-youngbloods/get-together (Sample from lyrics: “If you hear the song I sing You will understand (listen!) You hold the key to love and fear All in your trembling hand Just one key unlocks them both It's there at your command

Come on people now Smile on your brother Everybody get together Try to love one another Right now”)

Examples of Iowa volunteerism

“Days of Service,” “Volunteer Iowa,” https://volunteer.iowa.gov/, (“Organizations across Iowa will plan activities that give citizens an opportunity to give back. Activities will depend on the specific project, but could range from collection drives, painting, gardening, serving or packaging meals or tutoring children, to cleaning up parks and more. The Day of Service could have partnerships with local schools, families, faith-based groups, businesses and governments to accomplish the activities or projects. Post your project online to help you reach the largest pool of potential volunteers possible!” History: “1978 —The Iowa Office on Volunteerism was established by Governor Robert D. Ray with Executive Order 33 on November 2.”)

Janet Petersen, “Iowans’ Ideas: The power of kindness,” The Gazette, Oct. 6, 2020, https://www.thegazette.com/iowa-ideas/iowans-ideas-the-power-of-kindness/ (list)

Chenue Her, “A musician and an inspiration: R.J. Hernandez to be inducted into 2023 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame; R.J. Hernandez is one of six people being inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame October,” We Are Iowa, Sept. 22, 2023, https://www.weareiowa.com/article/features/rj-hernandez-iowa-latino-hall-of-fame-inductee-2023/524-4f628393-2ed1-4786-976b-563840b0f6b4 (“Hernandez is one of many ambassadors who works with the group to educate the community on different cultures. Since 2008, Hernandez has worked with about 24,000 participants in just about 700 sessions. "He’s so passionate about sharing and about what he knows people will learn from him," Orton said. "And, he gets people to participate . . ..”)

“Valuing the Cultures of Our Community,” CultureALL, https://www.cultureall.org/ (“CultureALL values the cultures of our community. You’ll see us in schools, the workplace, and wherever people gather. The experiences we provide invite Iowans to participate in cultural traditions that lead to a greater appreciation for the diversity around them. The ultimate goal of CultureALL is to elevate individuals' behaviors and attitudes to a higher level of acceptance and collaboration for the benefit of our region. CultureALL provides various opportunities for individuals to learn more about the people they interact with on a daily basis. From programs for seniors to summer camps for children, house parties featuring ethnic flavors to unique storytelling events, multicultural events to musical performances, CultureALL welcomes you to experience and appreciate today’s diverse world.”)

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Tuesday, December 05, 2023


Curious About Real Intelligence
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, December 5, 2023, p. A6

“Curiosity killed the cat”? Not our cats. They slowly walk around the water dispenser, looking, sniffing, contemplating before risking a tongue immersion.

My 86 billion neurons recall my lying on my back in the front yard of our Brown Street house, age three, curious whether wind makes trees sway, or moving trees make the wind blow.

Maybe three-year-olds should know the answer. But at least my curiosity was not risky curiosity. Young boys discovering steam tunnels under the University campus, including one that goes under the river to the hospital? Now that’s a risky curiosity.

Using bridges, not steam tunnels, we moved to the West side. Irving Weber, Iowa City’s historian, lived across the street from us with his wife, Martha, and son, Willis.

Willie and I wondered if copper wire from the roof of my house to his roof might transmit the dots and dashes of Morse Code. Our small battery only produced one “dot” and the beginning of a “dash” (letter “A”). My mother asked why we didn’t use the phone. Martha never forgot the hole we made in her roof. Modestly risky.

Could a kit-built transmitter – with 500-foot antenna -- interfere with commercial radio stations? It could. High risk (though we were unaware of the illegality). That led to an amateur radio transmitter, licensed and legal (minimal risk) and presidential appointment as an FCC commissioner.

Birds have their “territory,” we had ours – including Rock Island Railroad track. We were curious what a locomotive would do to a penny on the track. It flattened it into something we could sell for a nickel (unaware it was also a crime: 18 U.S. Code Sec. 331). Risky curiosity.

A 50-cent piece? Derail a locomotive? Young neighbors debated. Some had seen half-dollars; none possessed one. Curiosity unfulfilled.

My current curiosity involves brains of animals – including Homo sapiens, the only animal species able to talk itself into difficulties that would not otherwise exist. [Photo credit: Wikimedia commons; National Institutes of Health.]

Aside from my scholarly writing, my random curiosity is not that of an academic – discovering more and more about less and less until knowing everything about very little (Ph.D.), or less and less about more and more until knowing a little about everything (liberal arts B.A.).

Curiosity has meant I’d rather be good, mediocre or poor at many things than excel at one. Double par golf. Singing off-key. Trombone sounds only loved by moose. Playing high school basketball for a coach who said I looked like an elephant on ice.

There is no longer an “I.” Only bodies run by brains. My interest is not brains’ weight, neuron numbers and electric messaging. I want to know precisely how those neurons sense, create, store and retrieve a song, book or image from decades ago.

I agree with neurologist Jeff Hawkins: “We don't need more data, we need a good theory.”

Before we struggle with AI’s pros and cons shouldn’t we, like cats, be more curious about what neurons are doing and how they do it?

Nicholas Johnson believes that artificial intelligence is better than none. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org


Note: Of necessity, most of the “sources” for this column are from memories of my life experiences as communicated from my neurons.

As the column concludes, “we don’t need more data.” There are tens of thousands of academic articles regarding neurologists’ research and more popular articles reporting and commenting on it. As illustrated by just one of my numerous Google searches, without quotes: (Who said, with regard to knowledge of the human brain, that there is lots of data but no theory?) brought up 60 hits with enticing titles on the first Google page alone. For some reason there was no information about the total number of hits for that search.

I claim no expertise, thorough research or certification in this field. As the column suggests, "I'm just curious." However, based on what I have seen so far it seems that much of the research deals with such things as reporting the weights of various animals' brains, their number of nurons and connections, the primary functions of various locations within a human brain, and the role of electricity and chemistry in transmitting whatever it is the brain is transmitting. Whereas my primary interest is in the content of the messages, the routing details, and how they go about encoding, storing and later retrieving a sight, sound, smell or other content.

18 U.S. Code Sec. 331

“Chapter 17 – Coins and Currency,” U.S. Code, U.S. House, https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title18/part1/chapter17&edition=prelim (“Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or

Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 700; July 16, 1951, ch. 226, § 1, 65 Stat. 121; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(1)(I), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)”)

Brain numbers research (an example)

Suzana Hercularno-Houzel, “The Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, National Library of Medicine, Nov. 9, 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776484/

Jeff Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins, “How brain science will change computing,” TED Talks, Feb. 2003, at 5:11 and 05:53 minutes, over 1.7 million views, excerpt from https://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_hawkins_how_brain_science_will_change_computing/transcript

(“05:11 So why don't we have a good theory of brains? People have been working on it for 100 years. Let's first take a look at what normal science looks like. This is normal science. Normal science is a nice balance between theory and experimentalists. The theorist guy says, "I think this is what's going on," the experimentalist says, "You're wrong." It goes back and forth, this works in physics, this in geology. But if this is normal science, what does neuroscience look like? This is what neuroscience looks like. We have this mountain of data, which is anatomy, physiology and behavior. You can't imagine how much detail we know about brains. There were 28,000 people who went to the neuroscience conference this year, and every one of them is doing research in brains. A lot of data, but no theory. There's a little wimpy box on top there.

05:53 And theory has not played a role in any sort of grand way in the neurosciences. And it's a real shame. Now, why has this come about? If you ask neuroscientists why is this the state of affairs, first, they'll admit it. But if you ask them, they say, there's various reasons we don't have a good brain theory. Some say we still don't have enough data, we need more information, there's all these things we don't know. Well, I just told you there's data coming out of your ears. We have so much information, we don't even know how to organize it. What good is more going to do? Maybe we'll be lucky and discover some magic thing, but I don't think so. This is a symptom of the fact that we just don't have a theory. We don't need more data, we need a good theory.”)

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